With Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin announcing Wednesday that Michael Porter Jr. will play Thursday in the SEC Tournament, the freshman’s name has entered a different realm.
He’s no longer the kid who banked on offseason workouts with NBA teams to try to raise his draft stock after only 2 minutes of college basketball. He now plans to play out the season in a Mizzou uniform, a situation that many think is unique until they remember another recent college basketball player.
Irving played in eight games for Duke in the 2010-11 season before dislocating his big toe and missing three months of action. He then played three games in the NCAA Tournament before the Blue Devils lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed. Irving made his last game one of his best with 28 points, and three months later was the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Porter was widely considered the top recruit across the board coming out of high school; Irving bounced around the top 5 nationally among the recruiting services. Even though Porter sports the better recruiting profile, he also has a tougher task ahead as he prepares for his comeback.
Irving was part of a stacked roster: Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, and Mason and Miles Plumlee all helped the Blue Devils cruise to a 32-5 record. Porter is inheriting a Mizzou team with 11 losses and led by senior Kassius Robertson and Porter’s brother Jontay.
The Tigers’ 73.7 points per game rank 180th out of 351 teams nationally and they program enters play Thursday as the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament. While Irving’s presence helped Duke, Porter could change the entire landscape for Mizzou as it heads into postseason play.
Does Porter’s presence automatically make Missouri a better team? One of the trickier parts of that equation will be working Porter into an offense that has built chemistry throughout an entire season, even if he is the best player on the floor.
If Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s use of Irving in 2011 is any indication, Martin will likely ease Porter into any rotation. The former Duke star never played more than 31 minutes following his return to the court, but then again the talent on the team meant the Blue Devils didn’t demand his presence on the floor in order to win games.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Mizzou hovering around an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which offers a much tougher path out of any regional than Duke would have had they taken care of Arizona. Porter will simply have to try harder to reach the same point as Irving did with Duke.
Irving once gave advice to Porter after his injury, which was originally thought to be season ending.
As an 18-year-old kid understanding how talented you are, you just want to play basketball. When it gets taken away from you like that for the betterment of your health at the time, you can’t necessarily understand that because literally basketball is all you know. For me, it just gave me time to focus on other things. Focus on my body. Understand what the goal was at hand that I was trying to accomplish. I’m pretty sure the NBA scouts have enough on him to know whether he’s gonna be in the top two or three.
Maybe the scouts do have “enough” on Porter, but he’s also taking a much larger risk than Irving ever did given the prowess of his team and coming back during the SEC Tournament instead of the NCAA Tournament.
It’s going to be tougher for Porter to follow Irving’s road map, but at least the future NBA All-Star provided some sense of what it could look like for the Mizzou star the rest of the postseason.